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The 8 interviews included in this collection were conducted for the Old Dominion University History course 495/595: "Recapturing Women's History: Local and National," taught by Dr. Dorothy Johnson in the Fall of 1982. Each interview includes a brief biographical sketch of the person interviewed and a typed transcript.

Edith Reynolds White was active in the movement to reopen Norfolk's public schools after massive resistance shut them down in 1958. She was a member of the Women's Council for Interracial Cooperation, Norfolk Committee for Public Schools, and many other organizations. She served as librarian at Norfolk Academy from 1961-83. The interview discuses her background and her involvement in the school desegregation crisis.

Interview with

November 6, 1982
Interviewer: Mary Pelham White (no relation!)

Listen To Interview Listen to Interview


MP: Mrs. White, you’ve been in the forefront fighting for Norfolk School System for many years. Today I’d like to explore with you the history of you, the woman. What gave you the vision? What was your motivation? and What gave you the courage to fight through that period of time?

White: I didn’t see it as courage. I saw it as the natural thing to do. If you live in Norfolk, you want schools for all Norfolk children. I had children going to school. I wouldn’t dare live here and be opposed to Norfolk schools.

MP: How old were your children?

White: Ah. . I guess the oldest was about.. .uh, well, I can look up the dates of their birth and let you figure it out, okay? I have a tile here in the front hall.

MP: Oh... .you do!

White: Helen Stern made this for me. Let’s see, Hap was born in 1947, so in the fall of ‘58 he was eleven years old.. . and Holly was born in ‘49, so she was nine, and Barry was born.. .Oh, golly, this tile has slipped, in ‘54, is that right... yea, so she was five.. . she hadn’t started school yet, and Mark was born in ‘56 so he was just a little guy, he was two years old. So, we had a wild and active family.

MP: You had young children during all this crisis.

White: Oh yes, you bet, lots of them.

MP: Let’s back-track a little bit and find out where you were born.. . were you a Norfolk native?

White: No...born in New Jersey.

MP: And you grew up in New Jersey?

White: Grew up in New Jersey. Went to a little private school there.. .a very little one, and had no science, and really was ill-prepared for the twentieth century. It was a little day school, you know, a nice private school--good literature, good foreign language, and in a sense, a marvelous education in depth, but just no. . . you know. . . none of the things you need for the twentieth century. You were well-educated and not well prepared.

MP: An intimate setting.

White: Yes. When I was a senior in high school, my father died. That was not long after the end of the depression. Suddenly, financially, we were in tough shape. I had to get a scholarship to college.

MP: and you went to Vassar?

White: Right. The scholarship I got was Vassar, so that’s where I went. I worked my way through, and in those days you could really work. I got to send money home. I don’t think you could do that now.

MP: Wow! What did you do? What was your job?

White: Well, I got a lot of different jobs, but I ran the student self-help bureau which was great because...

MP: Is that like financial aid?

White: Yes, all the jobs for students. You run the bureau and are fairly well-paid for that, and when there was a job you can’t find somebody for, you can do it or get somebody to do it with you or something. You have a lot of opportunities to earn money lot of opportunities to earn money.

MP: That’s wonderful that you could send money home. So then did you work after college?

White: I worked summers, sure. I worked in New York cause we lived right near New York and commuted. I had lots of fun working for a college shop one summer back, you know, in the gung-ho college clothing days, and decided I never wanted to be a model. But then, in senior year in college, we were at war, and many of my best friends were being killed. A Navy captain came on campus, and summoned the few of us who had the math and language courses they needed so they could use us in Naval Intelligence.. . and so, I signed up and went into the Navy.

MP: Had you graduated by then?

White: No, I took some courses, secret courses, at college--had to highly contain what you were doing.

MP: Secret courses!

White: Oh, yea, it was really something. You couldn’t let your roommate know.. . it was all top secret jumbo.

MP: In Naval Intelligence.

White: Umhmm.. . in code-breaking--cryptography, which is what they were training us for. I went right into the WAVES. I think I was the youngest WAVE commissioned because I graduated from college when I was twenty, and I got commissioned before I was twenty-one. They suddenly got very nervous about it after they ... I met the man I replaced for active sea duty. . . and he was not very pleased about it...

MP: He wasn’t?

White: No. Because he was being sent to sea and I was taking his job in Washington. I worked in cryptography, Japanese language, in Washington for a couple of years, and then at the end of the war, I got in U.S. Armed Forces courses trying to help boys getting out of the Navy train for jobs and train to get back into college. USAFI it was called. I got sent to a hospital up in northern New York State, Sampson. There was a great big tuberculosis hospital-a lot of people didn’t even know it existed, but at that time they had no cure for tuberculosis and loads and loads of these boys came back, particularly from submarines in the south Pacific with active TB.. . a tremendous number of deaths of young kids. There were thousands of boys in this hospital and my job was to go out on the wards and try to get them interested in planning for when they got well and they got out.

MP: What was your training for that? or was there?

White: Not very much.. . you know.. .a brief Navy course. And we had had a college education, and that was considered what we needed. Of course, you get so involved in people’s lives and problems there. But that’a where I met Forry. He was an intern. He was completing an internship at Sampson Naval Hospital and he was also a Lt. (j.g.) and ranks me by about seven days or something like that. I don’t know, he knows... I’ve forgotten. We met because word came that I was to receive a unit citation for breaking Japanese codes. . . a whole gang of us. They had never had a WAVE officer. . . this dismal, dismal hospital way up in northern New York state in the middle of the bleakest winter they had ever had. Nothing came in or went out. There was just snow and so few events happened. So the captain thought this would be great, you know, they could decorate a WAVE! And, of course, I was the only young WAVE officer.

MP: You were the entertainment!

White: Right. So, they got a great kick out of kidding me, of course, and there were very few WAVES up there, and the other few were considerably older. They were going to do the thing with full regalia, so I would wear all the ribbons to which I was entitled. No woman wore all those ribbons, and I looked around for a young man to borrow them from and saw a nice looking young man who didn’t look as though he would make any harm or trouble and I asked him. He thought it was hysterical! And that was Forry! So, he lent me the ribbons to get decorated and somehow we got to be good friends.

MP: So you had never had the ribbons.

White: No, women didn’t go in for all that stuff that you were entitled for, you know. If you just breathed in and out, there were some ribbons you were entitled to wear.

MP: And you had to go to get those?

White: I borrowed them from him.

MP: Were they automatically given to the men?

White: I don’t know how they--I don’t even know how many of the men got them or what, but I think.. . you know, Forry had been in the Navy in medical school and they were meant to wear the appropriate uniform. Nobody worried about whether the WAVES.. . but for the great ceremony, I thought I’d get up for it. That’s how I met him. We lived together in a BOQ.. . I mean we lived in the same BOQ where women and men were very much separated. . . but it was a good way to get to know people pretty well.

MP: So, when did you marry?

White: Then we married in the following fall -- about ‘46. I’m looking to see when the kids were born.

MP: Did you live there for a while, or did you move back?

White: Well, we lived there for a while, and then he got more training and was sent to California. So, we got to drive across the country and see the world.. . and had a baby in California. Thought California was beautiful and we loved the outdoors and the beaches and the golf. We just missed the fall and the turning leaves so much, we had to come back to Virginia.

MP: So, you came the next year - probably in about '52?

White: In about two years, I guess, we came back with a baby.

MP: So, Hap was born in ‘47 and Holly was in ‘49...

White: Yes, and he was. .Forry was still doing his pediatric residency in Richmond.

MP: Did you live in Richmond then?

White: Did we ever. Yea, in a one-room -- it was something. That’s when’they didn’t pay residents. We lived on the $90 a month GI bill.

MP: That’s impossible now.

White: With one baby here and another on the way - yea.

MP: When did you come back to Norfolk?

White: Well, it must have been.. .Forry’s better on dates. ..I think about 1950.

MP: The reason I’m talking about dates is because I came across a letter written to you in ‘52 where you were invited to a Democratic meeting at Hotel Chamberlain.

White: Oh yes, sure. Well, I came back in 1950.

MP: So, I was trying to put in place how long you were here to kind of establish who you were. You were one of the few women who was invited to that meeting. I think there were ten out of fifty-six.

White: That was because I, well, let’s see, we came here in 1950. The first year was pretty grim because Forry had polio and was really laid up. We didn’t have any money, you know. We weren’t sure if he was going to get around or how it would be, so didn’t get too active in things. But then the next year, I think - now I’m off on dates - Francis Pickens Miller ran against Byrd in the political campaign and I got very interested in it. Ah.. And he was just.. he just needed any help he could get, so I think we put on a t.v. - I think it was radio or t.v. program one, for him in Norfolk and got working with the political setup for Frances Pickens Miller, who now is revered as a great elder statesman, but at that time he was a highly controversial figure because he opposed Harry Byrd. He was considered a wide-eyed liberal. Really he was the closest thing we had to anybody who had any visions of the world changing at all. At that time the staunch Virginia opinion was that things should stay exactly as they were if not moved backward. Certainly as far as integration or opening up the vote for people - you know we went through blank sheet registration or -are you familiar with some of that?

MP: No.

White: That was a very difficult time to register to vote because you went down to (you might want to look some of this up -)when we went down to register to vote, through some peculiar wording in the bill, ah, the registrar took it literally that you should not be told what you should be asked, or something like that, and if - one of the questions was "What was your previous job?" and "Where are you working now?" If you were at the same job and didn’t number that in consecutive numbers, you didn't get the right answers. See the rest of your answers were not correct so you were - your application was refused. Of course, many more blacks were turned down for registration - somehow whites seemed to get registered, but it was one of the means to keep the electorate small so it could be controlled.

MP: How did that come to your attention? How were you aware of that?

White: Nobody here was unaware of it!

MP: That was being talked about?

White: Sure, and we were trying to start the League of Women Voters (which again I would have to look up the dates) but we were working on it and there had been several attempts to start the League of Women Voters in Norfolk - it was not in existence. The rumor was, and I can’t document it, that people who were interested in keeping the electorate small and keeping Mr. Byrd and Mr. Pryor, who was the clerk of the court, in control, they would say, "Don’t go to a public place, come to my house" and they would get them over their house and serve them nice coffee and say, "Now, we girls all, get along fine, and we don’t need any organization like this." The whole thing would fall. So when we finally got it going, we were determined we’d meet in public places where everybody was welcome and nobody would, you know. We finally got a League going. That first year, we started up a League. I think that had something to do with the climate of the day in Norfolk - getting the League of Women Voters and trying to urge people to get - women - to get registered to vote. Things I think would be important would be that, and of course, I was a member of the Women’s Interracial Council and know some of the prominent black women. Mrs. Mason (have you read about her?) and had the opportunity to be really good friends with some of the more prominent black women in the community and saw what we were missing by having two such very separate communities.. . no opportunity to share. Yet we saw that our aspirations for our children were so much the same You know, so many white people living in Norfolk did not know some of the educated blacks assumed blacks all belonged to one economic class. When they were talking about. . . and it was why they had a hard time adjusting to blacks coming to high school. Because they were picturing, I guess, rag-a-muffins coming into class instead of children of professional people who had aspirations for college. You know, they just really didn’t have the experience to base it on and it was because we were two such very separate communities. Women’s Interracial Council was a marvelous opportunity to know people that cross racial lines, and League of Women Voters was another opportunity to get to know them. When the American Association of University Women , although there was objection and some of the old members withdrew, we followed the national regulations to admit all women who had graduated from accredited colleges and some of these groups began to change. For those of us living here, these were experiences in knowing women we had a lot of common bonds with - women who had gone to college, women who were interested in politics, women who cared about the community, you know. Suddenly, you realize how ridiculous all this is. You know ideas of the groups when you began to work together on a committee with somebody. I think working together is important, and we began to realize that the only way our children would change was if they were in class with other children of other races and worked with them and shared with them. As long as each, both the white groups and black groups, saw each other - kind of foreign, you know, out there, a monolithic, threatening kind of thing, there would be no hope for the community of people working. So, those were probably the reasons a lot of the women got very interested in working for the Committee for Public Schools. They had had experience working together before and they knew what they were working for.

MP: What in your background gave you the vision to join these groups? Was it your Vassar experience? Were your parents visionary?

White: That’s always a good question. Sure, Vassar had a lot to do with it, you know, and some of the other Vassar graduates in the community were working on some of these things. And of course, being in the Armed Forces, you know, I had just a lot more.. . being from the north.. .a lot more experience. I had some black friends in college and served with some black officers.. . had a lot more experience knowing, being close friends with people of other races. I think that makes a difference.

MP: In some ways, that would isolate you in Norfolk. Were there many other women who had had those kinds of experiences in this area at that time?

White: We were beginning to be a more cosmopolitan place, and it was something that drew you to the women who shared your ideas. I know that when the schools were closed, and I was working for the Committee for Public Schools, I was still playing tennis at the Country Club, you know, even though the Country Club people were very opposed to the idea, but I’ve always thought that if you’re ever going to make any changes, you’re not going to make them by withdrawing. I remember one woman I played with said, "Oh, I would just love to work on it, but I’m just afraid I wouldn’t have any friends." And I remember saying to her, "I’ve got more friends now than I..." Because you know, really, that’s a very artificial. . . what kind of friends are they if they, you know, if they’re going to drop you because you have ideas. Or is it required that all your friends share or have the same ideas that you have?

MP: You were very accepting of people who didn’t at that point...

White:Well, I don’t know. I think I was very prejudiced against prejudiced people, and it’s taken a long time to look at them with more understanding.

MP: That has evolved. That’s not where you were.

White: Yes, that’s right. I think I had sort of definite prejudices and just assumed that anybody who was worth anything would see the world as I did, but I don’t think it was courage. ..I think it was probably just, you know.. I had blinders the other way. And, now I can be tolerant and loving with people even when they are narrow-minded...I hope...at least I work on it.

MP: I’m relieved to know that maybe you had those prejudices then!

White: Oh, of course I do. I knew I did, but I understand (this shouldn’t be in your interview), but I understand that - there was a whole group when - for the Committee for Public Schools announced, there was a lot of strong feeling in the community opposed to it from people who were just picturing all kinds of threats to their children and all kinds of personal things. We, of course, got threatening phone calls by the barrel, and one of the things that we learned, and I would say it to any woman who’s in that position - was to think of what you’re going to say when you get the call and be able to say it without being disturbed by it. If you can deal with it and not really get involved in the emotional situation. People would call at dinner, and we had four kids at dinner, and my husband getting calls - phoned for emergency things and stuff, and you hate to get all riled up and come on back and get the baby’s bib on straight, so we’d get these calls. .. like real hate calls "I hope you die tonight". I discovered the best thing to do was to say "Oh, you poor thing. You’re just all consumed with hatred, aren’t you. I’m going to pray for you" . And they’d say, "Don’t you dare!" or "I know it must hurt to have all those angry feelings and I’m really sorry that you have them. It’s no fun to be angry" - that kind of thing. We’d just get a pattern like that.

MP: You took the lead - kind of put it back in their court.

White: It’s silly to try to argue with them and say "Well, you’re angry at the wrong person". Instead of trying to justify yourself, if you just took that approach... We had calls all through the night because we couldn’t take our phone off the hook because my husband was on call. We had a fiery cross burned out in the front yard. People were really into this thing.

MP: Was the Ku Klux Klan active at that point?

White: No, it was a bunch of kids, we discovered, but they were probably put up to it by their parents because of what they’d heard at home. You know, there was a lot of feeling of people. There were people who stopped speaking to me then, and with whom I’ve never gotten close to again, but they weren’t close friends, so I can’t say it was a great loss.

MP: Did that push you to other people that you really bonded with?

White: Oh yes, sure.. . other marvelous friends. I understand that when we used to go over to the Country Club - we were just learning then. Forry had polio, and to get active, we learned tennis. That’s really been a great saving in his life, but other wives could, of course, just stay up at the net and tap the ball, but I had to do the running. But we really enjoyed it. I understand there was a whole group of women who wouldn’t speak to us when we went over there. I was so dumb, I didn’t know it, so I would always say "Hi" and they would get off the court. We always had the court to play on and I thought it was just great.. . and it was, usually. Someone told me that they tried this for about two years, and finally gave up because I always said "Hi, good to see you. . .Hello, how are you" and never noticed they weren’t speaking. So, you can see that I have a lot of blinders.

MP: They served you well.

White: My neighbors next door at that time who didn’t speak to us but we always waved and told the children always to wave and say "Good morning, how are you". My dear old mother who lived with us was senile always - couldn’t see or hear too well, and she’d wave and say "Oh, your roses are so lovely". She didn’t know they weren’t speaking.

MP: She was spared.

White: She was adorable. She was such a warm cute person...Anybody who could be mean to her, you know, you’d really feel sorry for them. By the time they moved away, I well remember, she called me over and told me that we were the nicest neighbors they’d ever had. So, we finally broke through. If you keep waving to somebody everyday, they feel awfully stupid walking by without talking. But, yes...as I talk about it, I remember, yes, there was a lot of feeling in the community. But there were many of us working together and feeling very deeply about it - for public schools. And there was real communication among the group and a real strength. When you’re part of a group that really believes in what they’re doing and you have bonds with them and can giggle with them, I think you have more enriching friendships than if you just barely speak. You know, we’re acquainted with a lot of people who have differing ideas from ours.

MP: You must have had a wonderful support group and your relationship with your husband certainly helped.

White: Umhmm. As I say, there were a good group of women in the AAUW, the League of Women Voters - other people appeared all the time. When the Committee for Public Schools got going, there were just marvelous women who appeared and took leadership roles and responsibilities and helped raise the funds - that was a big job. The women really did it, you know. We had to call and call and call. Of course, you’d call people who would be -it’s scary to call and not know what reception you were going to get. We met at the Unitarian Church, and we’d get everybody all geared up and say, "Now, all right, before you can have your second cup of coffee in the morning, you have to call ten people. Make this something you can really make yourself do. And give yourself a reward when you’re done." As we called people, we discovered that secretly there were a lot of people in the community who were with us. For one reason or another, their husband’s job - because of this or that - they were not daring to speak out, but secretly, a lot of them were with us.

MP: So, you were contacting other women.

White: Yes. Calling and asking for donations for funds. We have the book here of all the people who sent us money. A lot of money would turn up here anonymously. But a lot of people were sympathetic because they knew that no community would survive with public schools, you know, it’s a ridiculous idea, isn’t it?

MP: Yes. You were able to live without being overwhelmed with resentment for these people who were giving anonymous money and would not speak up and join you?

White: Oh yes. Sure, because I could understand. For instance, your father was a judge. He couldn’t have contributed or given his name to the contribution, but he might have sent some money. Many people who worked for the government... many people were in positions...and you remember, the political control was pretty complete in Virginia at the time. There were many people who obviously couldn’t. The only person I know who made a really great financial sacrifice who were involved in this were the James. For Ruth and Ellis, really, really, their life changed, but Forry’s practice may.. . some people may have switched. Other people may have come to him, but on the whole, I think people who thought about it could see why a pediatrician would be for public schools. It was in keeping with his practice. He didn’t get much professional resentment. You judge how you’re doing professionally by whether you’re getting referrals from other doctors. Even though it was kind of scary - he was pretty new at practicing medicine. He was still getting over polio. No other prominent doctors would put their name on it. On the whole, I don’t think economically we suffered. That made me free to speak where lots of other people didn’t ‘cause I didn’t feel that my husband’s livelihood was threatened . So you talk about courage - well, it has a lot to do with the position you’re in. I wasn’t thinking my kids were going to go hungry.

MP: You take the position you're in.

White: I think any woman has to go along with how threatened her husband feels, don’t you. Luckily, I got lots of support in this from Forry, who eventually was President of the Norfolk Committee for Public Schools. As usual, it took him a little - he’s an old Norfolk, you know, person. He hadn’t lived in other parts of the world much. He hadn’t had those experiences. It took him awhile to kind of mull it over. He kind of thinks things through very carefully, but when he comes.. . when he believes in it, he can be effective and articulate. He wrote the good article, he was the officer, he did a lot of these things.

MP: Was his family supportive? His mother was here.

White: His family was darling. Yes, they.. . ah, you knew his dad from Columbian Peanut Company. They were pretty much "old Norfolk" in a way, and yet they believed that people had a right to their individual opinions. They had worked hard in the Methodist Church and their religious convictions went along with understanding all people with Christianity for all people. So, they had a lot backing them and while they would not have come out and done the things we did, they supported our right to do it, I really valued them for that. They were great about it. They never made us feel that we were breaking with family tradition.

MP: That’s wonderful.. . so you did have the support of family.

White: Well, in a sense. Well, sure. -and they made us feel that family caring comes before political agreement. Yes.

MP: So, when all this was happening, you were only here two years to get involved (back to the meeting at the Chamberlain) but that’s probably why you were involved in that, because of your involvement in these organizations.

White: Well, see the League hadn’t started then. There was no women’s activity in politics until 1952. It was late in the ‘50’s when women began to get politically awakened and Mary Thrasher ran for office. Lots of people.. . lots of people... lots of women who really admired Mary and thought she was very effective, had to admit that they had never registered to vote. It was sort of the thing to say that, "Oh, I let my husband do the voting" you know. It was not considered the "feminine" thing to do. And yet, when Mary was running for office, women realized: Hey, you know , she needs my support and I’d better get registered. I think it was a big help. Mary did not win that election though, but I think Evelyn Hailey was elected partly because women began to see that they had better vote their own vote. I think we’ve been very proud of Evelyn as somebody who served well in the Legislature, and a lot of the backing began in those years before.

MP: We’ve come a long way.

White: . . . and a lot of the liberalizing - broadening of the vote in Norfolk so that no one could control it - and the liberalizing of it - looking at politics in a different way. A lot of that came out, partly, of that experience of the Committee for Public Schools. I think it was an important part in the developing of Norfolk -the deciding that Norfolk, yes, would be a cosmopolitan city and that we didn’t have to... You know, Richmond was so angry at Norfolk. I remember going to a medical meeting in Richmond when our schools were closed and having lots of the doctors say "Keep those schools closed, don't you ever open them. Good for you to close them." I'd say "Don't be silly, we're doing everything we can to open them. What kind of community do you think we are?" They didn't give a hoot about Norfolk as long as old Virginia stood staunch. And of course, Forry and Nary went up to see Gov. Almond, and you know the whole historical background of it, but I think Norfolk began to realize-Hey, if it was going to be a city to get the Navy and have colleges and to do the things we wanted to do, we couldn’t try to stay in line with Richmond and the rest of Virginia, we'd better be a city that thought for itself. Ever since, our politics are much more... well "liberal" is such a bad word, but you know, I think we don’t go the straight line and we look at things in a different way. This is part of the awakening to be a cosmopolitan community.

MP: Norfolk drew national attention during that time.

White: Oh yes, of course, the Edward R. Murrow show.

MP: Were you on that?

White: Oh sure, and all the good friends were on it, and getting ready for that was very exciting.

MP: What did you do to get ready?

White: We had to get all kinds of people who would come to that meeting to be on t.v. And try to get everything ready to be presented and see who had the gumption and courage to speak out. We weren’t really sure til the night they did the tape who would be there and what people would say. So it was...it was not rehearsed.. .a lot of it was impromptu. It was exciting. We had some statements. We drafted a statement for AAUW, for instance, and I think I presented that. That stirred a lot of people to make their own personal statement. And when the show was shown, of course, they cut a lot of the organizational, pre-drafted statements and focused on people who were stirred to respond. But it was all a part of the evening - an exciting part.

MP: You had a good turnout? Lots of people did show?

White: Yes, by then we had quite a few hundred and with Edward Murrow coming to Norfolk, it was quite an exciting thing, and that show really did get a lot of people. One thing that (maybe this doesn’t go on your tape), but Carl Rowen came to Norfolk with a white photographer. You know Carl Rowen, the black reporter for the Minneapolis newspaper and a very prominent man. He became under-secretary of state. At that time, he was a well-known reporter. He came and he had a white photographer, a woman, with him, and they called to see if they could come do a story of us. They came on over in the late afternoon to do a story. They wanted to get some pictures of Norfolk citizens integrated at some point. Where would they get black and white people? The only place we could think of was in the newborn nursery at the hospital ‘cause obviously, there were no other places at that point. They wanted to go down at visiting hours and see if they could get a picture. Here they were and it was about 6 o’clock in the evening and they said "Where can we go to get something to eat?" Well, in all seriousness, there was no place we could tell a black man and a white woman to go to get something to eat in Norfolk, so I had to say, you know, "Won't you stay and eat with us?" But it was Hap’s birthday. It must have been his eleventh birthday and we were having his favorite food which was pork chops and corn on the cob. There’s no way to divide that for two more people.. . we had enough for the kids. So I said "Well, won't you stay" and they were darling they stayed. It was perfectly obvious because I’d been talking to them, trying to cook dinner and was no way to add something to it, you know, it was perfectly obvious.

MP: What did you do?

White: Well, they were real cute. Everybody just laughed and we didn’t say anything about it at the time. We all got enough to eat - filled up with rolls and sang "Happy Birthday" to Hap and made a big celebration out of it. I got a delightful letter from Carl Rowen afterwards and he indicated he had kind of caught on to what was happening. He came back to O.D.U. a couple of years ago to speak as a very prominent statesman. I went to hear him and when I went up afterward, bless him, he recognized me and he said something about. . ‘.‘well I remember dinner." So, it impressed him at the time. But you really could not send him out after dark - a black man and a white woman out trying to find a restaurant.

MP: Those things were brought home to you real personally.

White: One of the big problems in these early organizations that were integrated was where they would meet. Churches were afraid to give them a place, no restaurant would serve them if they wanted a public dinner. It was just always the large part of the meeting was spent trying to find out where you could meet ‘cause you didn’t want to just meet in homes because that made a lot of people feel a little uncomfortable. We wanted to get a place where everybody was equally welcome.

MP: Wanted to meet on equal turf.

White: And it was a real challenge. You ‘know, that’s so far behind now, you can’t even think that it happened.

MP: It’s been a long time

White: That’s true.

MP: How did you do all of these things when you had little children and a husband recovering from, polio?

White: I didn’t go to work until a couple of years after that. You see, when my youngest was in kindergarten, I started working for the library and then that was a real crowded time because I had to start taking courses at O.D.U. at night. And you know how hard that is, don’t you?

MP: I do know.

White: To come home from a working day and get everybody fed and get down to that 7 o’clock class at night.

MP: That was a busier time for you than all these things were happening?

White: You know, I can’t think of a time when it hasn’t been busy, can you? If I just make it through this week.

MP: Did you have help then with these children?

White: I had some help for part of the time. I had some help which was great, but I never had help that stayed through dinner, which is always the crunch. But I had some help, so I could get to meetings and stuff - sure.

MP: How did your husband do all these things and keep a practice going?

White: Well, you know, we didn’t take that. .. we do just as much now. It didn’t take that long. I don’t know.

MP: The volumes of material that I have seen have led me to believe that there could hardly be enough hours in the day, but that must not have been your experience at all.

White: Well, I don’t know. I think every day has always been full. We’re into tennis at a great rate now. We play tennis three or four times a week. Everybody says, "How do you get time?" Well, if it’s what you want to do it’s amazing how it works out.

MP: How were your children feeling? Did’ they feel the same way that you did. . . just one day at the time?

White: They were pretty young. They weren’t really. . . afterwards Hap did his speech at Norfolk Academy (every senior who graduates from Norfolk Academy has to do a senior speech) and Hap decided to do his on the closed Norfolk schools. That’s when he went back without really being fully aware of what was going on and to him it was quite a revelation. He got very excited about it all and gave a good speech, I thought. Then he went on to college and they kept asking him to.. . he had the experience of a professor saying, "Now, you’re from the South, explain to us how segregationists feel." And Hap would say, "I have no idea. I’ve never known a segregationist. Nobody in my family is. I can’t explain it." People just assumed that he would have that point of view because of-where they’re from is still a part of it. But when he came.. . after he graduated from college, he was trying to get his masters in Urban Studies, and I told you he’s done a lot of writing on (the impact of the) Norfolk Housing and Redevelopment, and the impact of racial segregation and racism. He’s done a lot of interviewing, as you’re doing, with prominent citizens. He’s always interested and he’s really, maybe, more of an authority on all this now because he’s studied it and written it up.

MP: So he wasn’t emotionally involved at the time. He was so young.

White: No, and the others were much too young to really know very much about it.

MP: In some ways that was probably good.

White: Oh, well, there were kids who said funny, ugly things, I guess, but I think they all have to take a little of that. Your family can be doing all the accepted things and kids can say mean things to you, so what the heck!

MP: That's true.

White: I guess Holly, my second daughter, had kids in her class who said cruel things to her and made her feel.. . she felt it more keenly maybe than the others, but I didn’t even know.. . she’ll tell you now.

MP: Well, they have inherited your sense of direction or just been part of the flow of the time.

White: Yes, but kids can be mean one minute and best friends the next. You know, if you’re doing an activity with them, I think they forget about it, don’t you. You know, and you knew they were just reflecting things they heard their family say.. . it wasn’t children’s thinking. Of course, I think children think.. .South Pacific says that "children must be carefully taught". Fundamentally, children welcome each other and will be friends and not make distinction on the basis of color at all, but only who’s interested in the activities I am.

MP: Did you see any different dimension that the women’s groups played or that women added to this political campaign? Or were you so immersed that every one’s point of view...

White: No, I think women were very, very important in making the Committee for Public Schools work. I think they were the people who really raised the money and kept the records. There was one marvelous gal who kept a little box with the names of everybody who wrote a letter to the editors or indicated interest or anybody who contacted anyone. Then we would follow up and whenever we were getting together to do it, she would come with her little file-card box of names, so we never lost track of anybody who had indicated interest. That kind of skill.. . I think that’s particularly associated with women, isn’t it.. . to keep good records. Another gal who was just a real marvelous organizer, Dot Mulligan. Just suddenly, out of nowhere, these people appeared and were ready or had done something that gave them the knowledge of how you organize.. . how you get things going. One of them had worked hard with the Republican Party. One of them had worked for the Democratic Party, but they brought their skills into doing this.

MP: Did the press give equal coverage to the women at that point?

White: There was the woman’s page, you know, if you go back through the newspapers-a woman’s page - style. It’s very hard to say that the press gives equal coverage to women. I don’t think like Sunday’s paper with a great section on women. ..I don’t think anybody would have dreamed ‘of that then.

MP: In terms of this, when I was going back through papers (and I did not go through them all) I went through a lot of them and I had a hard time determining exactly what the women’s role was.

White: Well, at that point, we had to get the prominent men’s names to announce the Committee. It was always the prominent men, you’re right, I think that’s probably true. But I think that would be so still. That hasn’t changed very much. If you want the business community.. .When we were trying to get the people for the Town Meeting, we could get prominent women in every other field, but when we wanted the business community represented, our advisors said, "Look, you can find a woman who is a vice-president of a bank, or who is this or that, but if you really want the representatives of the businesses, you have to ask men" - and that’s probably true. So, in spite of all the pages of women in real estate, salesmen, and women who are prominent and stuff, it’s all a nice little courtesy to the few women who have made it.

MP: And those people are big enough to transcend that.

White: Yes. I just don’t think that the business community is still equally controlled by women.. . by any means.

MP: I think you’re right.

White: I don’t know that it ever will be.

MP: Really?

White: When I look at the future, I see so many different things (and you don’t want to take the time here on how I see the future of our city). I have some visions - far some visions - far-off visions and dreams, and it’s very, very different. I think we’re not going to go back to the old employment. I think we’re going to see a whole different work pattern and everything else.

MP: What do you envision?

White: You really want to take time?

MP: I really do.

White: I think because of computers, lots of people are going to be able to work out of their homes. I would like to see a time when we’re not a 9-5 city. We don’t have to have everybody rushing to work at one time and we don’t have to pave over half of the downtown to park cars because people will be flexible. We don’t have to wait in those great, long lines I see on 64 because not everyone will go to work at one time. People will work out of terminals at home. They’ll report in and get the information they need. Families may do a job together. Man and wife together may have a terminal they work out have a terminal they work out of. I see the whole work-pattern changing tremendously.

MP: Back to the home?

White: Well, partly to the home, partly to different areas. There is no reason why everybody has to be in the downtown area. . . to different areas. I hope I see - I would like to see people moving into and living in the downtown area. I don’t think you can have a city where there are buildings that are empty every night and not have it become derelict and subject to vandalism. I see in European cities where people live in those buildings at night. I think we’re going to be too short of space to have the luxury of buildings that are empty on weekends and nights. I think churches could be used full time, you know. We have very little property left in Norfolk now, and we think we’re using it all. I think we’re going to have to look at the clock and the calendar and see that there are different ways to use it - to make it productive. Our lives could change a great deal.

MP: This is what you’re offering at the Town Meeting of the Future?

White: No, I’m not even a speaker at the Town Meeting, so I can’t say I’m offering that. I’d like to see people thinking about what changes there will be because I saw how angry they were when the world was changing in the 1950’s and how a lot of people are terrified of change. They think they can’t control it and they turn to kooky ideas . I think religious cults and things are because people are terrified of change and new ideas and things. I’m hoping that by means of something like the Town Meeting, you can get people to think about how you change - how you control what decisions you have, and not see it as an enemy, and feel that you have to join some cult or something to escape it.

MP: Much less threatening that way

White: I think so. Yes. I think that if they see change as a continuous part.. . up to that point in Virginia, people didn’t see change as a continuous part of their lives. People wanted to hang on to things as they were. We always laughed about hauling Virginia into the twentieth century by its heels!

MP: You all did have a sense of humor that kept you going.

White: Oh, of course, I think that’s half the fun.

MP: I came across a letter that you got at Christmas time - a Christmas card from Marge and Dick, I think.

White: Oh, yes.. . she was the gal with the box.

MP: Well, it was very humorous. I felt that it must have been a great part of your life.

White: Oh yes. One of the funniest things that we did.. . we gave a New Year’s Eve party on New Years 1959. We gave a ‘59 party and had all kinds of great jokes. People wearing all sorts of kooky buttons and things and had a marvelous time laughing at the whole process, which was not over then. The schools were not open then, but there was hope they would open. Well, I don’t know how much hope there was, but anyhow.. .When you’ve been through a lot with friends, you feel a real common bond. You know we got calls (I don’t know if you want this on your tape either). One of the kinds of calls we’d get at dinner. .. they’d say "I hope your daughter marries a nigger!" and I said "Oh, lawsy, I hope she do. Would you like to speak to the lady of the house?" which of course is a very prejudiced thing. But you might as well play into their prejudice. You know, a good Negro woman would not have been talking that way, but I thought, well all right, if that is what you see, I’ll give it to you.

MP: That’s what carried you.

White: . . And usually we got the phone slammed down, you know. I think they knew we were kidding, but anyhow, if you’re gonna kid them back, it makes people feel. When the White Citizen’s Group ran for election (and again, you’ll have to look up the dates), there was a very strong white citizen’s group who were very connected with the Ku Klux Klan. The Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizen’s Group were very closely connected. We did do phone calls to them saying we were in town and we wanted to know how to get in touch with the Klan. They would put us right in touch with them. There was no question about it. They ran on a platform of White Citizens and when they ran for election, that was probably the most divided time in the City. You know, politics seem to polarize people so. There was a lot of hatred. But we noticed that all of the men running on it had funny ears. . . those funny kind of rodent ears! I still sort of look at people and see those funny ears and think well, "Are you a redneck!" Really, there is a look. I don’t know what it is. Well, yea, there was a lot of giggling and fun about it too and I think it should be, don’t you? Life should be a celebration and you know, I like to think we had more fun because we felt comfortable about the things we were working for. I can’t help but feel that the people working to keep the schools closed - to keep people narrow-minded, but have somewhere in the depths of them, had some uncomfortable feelings about it. It must have been very difficult for them to go to church and mouth the words. I realize this is my point of view, but I can’t help but feel it.

MP: The church was also supporting some of this in terms of "amalgamation" and saying that this was God’s idea for these people and that the people didn’t know what was best for them.

White: Different churches took different.. .You know, people quote the Bible for anything they want. There will not be a...you know, the church, you know, James Brewer was the minister...

MP: I’ve read his name. It wasn’t Larchmont Methodist, was it?

White: No, it wasn’t a Christian Church.

MP: Unitarian?

White: Unitarian Church was marvelous and we could meet there. We could do everything there. And really, a lot of people from the Unitarian Church were leaders in this thing and were great. Other churches were different in different ways. . .some of the truly, sincerely religious people felt called to work with us even though some of them didn’t want to. But then there were a lot of churches, you know, shall we say, some of our Southern Baptist friends, were very opposed and gave their ministers. . .There was a marvelous Southern Baptist minister here whose congregation just opposed him, and there were ministers - the Ministerial Association was integrated and was trying to give leadership to people in terms of what they sincerely believed, and a lot of them had to leave, or had very difficult times with their congregations. The minister at - Potts - the big Methodist Church downtown?

MP: Epworth?

White: Epworth had me do a program there with Mrs. Mason for the United Nations and it was something that caused him a lot of trouble in his church. But he was determined that we be on the program together. Oh, you asked me what people were important to me.. And I, of course, I think Mrs. Roosevelt was important. We went to Richmond and heard Mrs. Roosevelt. She urged us to form United Nations Organizations in communities that would support and understand. We formed a good United Nations group here. Some of the people like Herman Williams who was in the public schools got turned out of his job because of his stand for interracial things. But anyhow, we had a group trying to form this United Nations group. Mrs. Roosevelt would not come here to speak unless we could guarantee that the audience would not be segregated. So the first unsegregated meeting was held, I believe, it was at the Center Theater and Mrs. Roosevelt spoke. She was tremendous. We had dinner for her at the YWCA. It took courage for the "Y" to have the dinner. . And each of these decisions along the way... But she was a dynamic figure in that. But I remember when we scheduled a United Nations meeting on Africa. We had scheduled it at Norfolk Museum before it was the Chrysler, and two professors from Norfolk State who had been in Africa on fellowships the summer before, and two from Old Dominion, I think, were to be on the program. The morning of the program, they told us we couldn’t have it...that they would not have an interracial panel at the Museum. Too late to get into the paper, too late to let people know, we had high school classes who planned to attend because they were studying Africa. And you know, this kind of thing could be pulled time after time. You could just be all set to do something and have it fall through.

MP: What did you do?

White: We had to cancel that meeting.. . which is pretty silly when you think - the United Nations, you know, really!

MP: Were you there to make that statement? Did people come expecting a program?

White: Yes. And then we got it put on the radio and we tried to call people. But the Museum would not even leave the light on so there could be an announcement on the door telling people where it was. I think a couple of us with flashlights went down to tell them it was called off.

MP: I noticed that one of the statements after the schools finally opened was -and I think Dr. White made it - was that, in retrospect, so many of the things that happened that seemed negative at the time, had worked to the advantage. Or that everything seemed to work in concert to finally make this happen.

White: When something like that happened in the United Nations,, a lot of people began saying "Hey, if I really want to know about Africa, and I certainly want to know from two people who’ve been there, it’s kind of silly, isn’t it" It began to be not logical in any way. I think it began to cut the ground more and more. The rest of America was moving this way, of course. I think the Edward R. Murrow Show shed the light on it and made heroines of the people like Margaret White who spoke out on it.

MP: Is Margaret White kin to you?

White: No. She’s not another White -- but she’s not, but a great gal and a good friend. But they did a beautiful closeup of her speaking and she came across well on t.v. I think a lot of Norfolkians sitting in their home watching that program got, you know, had to re-evaluate where they stood. Who are the heroes and who are the villains? I don’t know because I’ve never been able to really understand, even as my son, how segregationists feel. I really wouldn’t know.

MP: Well, I thank you for your time.

White: Is that enough?

MP: I think it is, unless you have a particular thought or any omissions that we made or anything that stands out in your mind - any reflections.

White: Boy, you made me talk about all kinds of things that I hadn’t thought I remembered. I hope that Norfolk has learned and will now be willing to talk about things before.. .No one would talk about the closed schools. There was such silence. When you went to parties that September, and at that point there were a lot of medical parties and stuff, no one talked about it. It was taboo. That’s dangerous when a community won't talk about things. That’s why I have hopes for the Town Meeting. I want people to talk about ideas before they are polarized. Before they are afraid to risk it. I think living is a risk and you have to, you know, be willing to say what you think and then be willing to listen to someone else. When any community gets to the point where people differ so they wont share ideas before they are polarized, before they are afraid to risk it. When any community gets to the point where people differ so they wont share ideas, then that’s dangerous. I hope we’ve learned something from that experience.

MP: I hope so.

White: I hope we can move ahead to talk with each other because we will always have people in the community who differ tremendously in ideas and that’s all right. That’s good. That’s what it’s about and I don’t want us all to be the same. I want to keep creativity and originality in kids. That’s why I think libraries are important, so they can go and look up and do heir own thing. I don’t want everybody conforming, not even to my ideas. . . especially to my ideas! One of the things is that we’ve been in some really good book discussion groups -just with friends. And we have deep bonds with friends. There was a rabbi who -all of them worked with us in the Committee for Public Schools. It just happened that we got together with a book discussion group and out of it grew bonds with Jewish and Christian friends who feel deeply about things and they’ve been marvelous bonds. I remember when one friend, or acquaintance, I should say, said she and her husband would like to join it, and I said "Great ‘cause we’re always welcoming new people" and she said, "But suppose we had ideas and other people didn’t agree with us." I said, "Well, that’s exactly what it is about" and she said, "Oh, well I wouldn't like that."

MP: So you never saw much more of her.

White: They never came. But you know, when you really don’t want to hear anybody’s ideas but your own and you want all of your friends to be a reflection of you, I think your life is terribly narrow and you miss out on a lot of fun.

MP: Well, I have enjoyed this time that we’ve spent and hearing more about you.

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